ERNESTO SCHIAPARELLI’S EXCAVATIONS AT THEBES

ERNESTO SCHIAPARELLI’S EXCAVATIONS AT THEBES

• Christian Greco, Beppe Moiso

The presence of Ernesto Schiaparelli at Thebes was documented for the first time in December 1884, when at the head of the Egyptian Department of the Archaeological Museum of Florence, he went to Egypt to undertake a first campaign to acquire antiquities in order to augment the Florentine collection. He quickly came into contact with the friars of the Franciscan Mission in Luxor, creating a solid friendship which proved precious for acquisitions and future research in the field. In 1894 Schiaparelli was called to direct the Egyptian Museum of Turin and in 1901 he returned to Thebes for the third time, again to acquire antiquities. He was well aware however that the enrichment of the Turin collection could not be based solely on acquisitions, even because the objects were out of context and often not easily attributable. As in the case of other countries, it was necessary to promote research and to this end the I.A.M. (Italian Archaeological Mission) with the decisive support of the House of Savoy was founded and planned to explore numerous Egyptian sites, beginning in the Thebes area with two important work sites in the Valley of the Queens and at Deir el Medina. The work of the I.A.M. began in western Thebes precisely at Bab el Harim on the 29th January 1903. Schiaparelli’s valid collaborator Francesco Ballerini preceded Schiaparelli with the job of organizing the camp and employing personnel. Research in this area continued during the 1904 and 1905 campaigns, which also included the Deir el Medina site up to 1909. The results were already surprising in the first campaign. On 15 February of 1903 the tomb of prince Khaemuaset (no.44) son of Ramses III came to light and although ransacked and reused in ancient times, over ninety mummies were found, many of them still in their sarcophaguses, as well as vases and other funerary objects. In all, over eighty tombs were explored in the Valley of the Queens mostly belonging to queens and princes, where teams of up to three hundred workers were employed. Among these was the tomb of prince Amonherkhepeshef (no.55) another son of Ramses III and although it had been ransacked, contained extraordinary paintings as well as the mummy of a young man, perhaps the prince himself. The tomb of princess Ahmosi (no.88) daughter of Seqenenra, besides the mummy, revealed various funerary furnishings as well as two large fragments of funerary sheets bearing passages from the “Book of the Dead”. However, as Schiaparelli said, the most exciting find that repaid all their hard work and research, was the one found in February 1904, the tomb of queen Nefertari, consort of Ramses II (no.66). The research in the Valley of the Queens was completed in the early days of March 1905 after having satisfied the original objective: “…to explore it systematically, so as to leave no part not examined, to bring to light all the tombs, both the few already known and others which we supposed and hoped to be able to discover…” On completion of research in the Valley of the Queens, work began in the nearby necropolis of Deir el-Medina in February 1905, where numerous lost funerary furnishings of the villagers were found. Exploring the bed of the valley the rest of the village came to light which was described in great detail by Schiaparelli. On the outskirts of the village in the foundations of a house two jars were discovered containing thirty three rolls of papyrus with administrative texts in Demotic and Greek script, attesting to the late occupation of the village. In 1906 the intact tomb of Kha and his wife Merit was discovered with its entire funerary furnishings as well as the mummies of its owners. In the same year, after the discovery of the funerary chapel of Maia the paintings were “detached”, restored and recomposed in the Turin museum. The large quantity of material from these two sites contributed significantly to the enrichment of the Turin collection allowing a more complete presentation of the story of ancient Egypt.

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